Nuclear Nonproliferation

U.S. Efforts to Help Other Countries Combat Nuclear Smuggling Need Strengthened Coordination and Planning Gao ID: GAO-02-426 May 16, 2002

The worldwide trafficking and smuggling of nuclear material has reportedly increased in recent years. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports 181 confirmed cases of illicit trafficking of nuclear material since 1993. Many of the cases reported by IAEA involved material that could be used to produce a "dirty bomb" that could spread radioactive contamination over a wide area. Nuclear material can be smuggled across a country's border through various means. Many nuclear smuggling cases have been traced to nuclear material that originated in the former Soviet Union. The United States, through the Department of Energy's Material Protection, Control, and Accounting program, has helped them secure nuclear material at civilian and defense facilities--the first line of defense against potential theft and diversion of nuclear materials. To address the threat posed by nuclear smuggling, the United States is helping these countries improve their border security--a second line of defense--but these assistance efforts face daunting challenges. U.S. efforts to combat nuclear smuggling are divided among six federal agencies--the Departments of Energy, State, and Defense; the U.S. Customs Service; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and the U.S. Coast Guard. From fiscal year 1992 through fiscal year 2001, the six agencies spent $86 million to help 30 countries, mostly in the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe, combat the threat of smuggling of nuclear materials. GAO found that U.S. assistance is not effectively coordinated and lacks an overall governmentwide plan to guide it. Although an interagency group, chaired by the State Department, exists to coordinate U.S. assistance efforts, the six agencies that are providing assistance do not always coordinate their efforts through this group. The Departments of Energy, State, and Defense have pursued separate approaches to installing radiation detection equipment at other countries' border crossings; consequently, some countries' border crossings are more vulnerable to nuclear smuggling than others. U.S. assistance is generally helping countries combat the smuggling of nuclear and other radioactive materials, but serious problems with installing, using, and maintaining radiation detection equipment have undermined U.S. efforts. These and other problems have largely resulted from a lack of agency oversight and follow-up.


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